Preventing Armed Conflict In South Africa


The deployment of monitoring missions by the Commonwealth, EU, Organisation of African Unity, and the UN helped to prevent violence during the 1994 elections and ensured that South Africa did not experience a conflict relapse after the transition from apartheid.

The peace process in South Africa following the end of apartheid created the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) in December 1993 as a temporary political arrangement to formally end the armed conflict between the African National Congress (ANC) and what remained of the minority regime. The TEC was tasked with governing the South Africa until a national government could be formed after elections scheduled for April 1994. With ongoing clashes taking place in KawZulu-Natal between ANC cadres and supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the continued presence of hard-line elements of the old regime (particularly in the security services), and the return to South Africa of many ANC personnel formerly based outside the country, the elections promised to take place in a potentially volatile environment which could trigger renewed conflict. Faced with ongoing political violence and the prospect of a war which could have dwarfed anything seen in post-colonial South Africa to date, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) requested that the UN Security Council establish an observation mission to report on the transition from apartheid and investigate scenes of violence and conflict.

The United Nations Observer Mission to South Africa (UNOMSA) was established in 1992 and began deploying its first personnel on 13 September 1992. The Commonwealth, EU, and OAU were all invited to contribute their own observers by the UN, and on the ground observers from all four intergovernmental organisations worked in joint teams and coordinated their approach. In October 1992, the observers began monitoring the conduct of the police and investigate alleged atrocities after the ANC withdrew from the peace process following a massacre of ANC supporters by the security services.1 Negotiations resumed in April 1993, with UNOMSA facilitating dialogue with the goal of bringing as many parties as possible into the peace process.2 By December 1993, 100 international observers were working across South Africa and reporting to a spectrum of international organisations and governments. Alongside ongoing dialogue facilitated by local people and organisations and the work of South African institutions such as the National Peace Committee, this ongoing international presence helped to keep the peace process on track, however the upcoming elections represented a major concern. As a result, the Commonwealth, EU, OAU, and UN deployed a total of 3,000 monitors to oversee the contest, verify its integrity, and prevent any outbreaks of electoral violence from sparking an armed conflict.3 This deployment allowed the South African people to go to the polls in a relatively free, fair, and safe environment, where they elected Nelson Mandela to lead the county. UNOMSA was terminated on 27 June 1994, its mission complete. The ANC formally disbanded its armed forces in December 1994, marking the completion of South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition to democracy.4

1 Muna Ndulo. “United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA): Security Council Resolutions 772 (1992) and 894 (1994) and the South African Transition: Preventive Diplomacy and Peacekeeping.” Cornell Law Faculty Publications, No. 61. (1995) pp.214-6

2 Ibid. p.222-3

3 UN. “United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa (UNOMSA).” UN Archives and Management Section. (UN, 2022) Available at: (Accessed 25/01/2022)

4 Mac Maharaj. “The ANC and South Africa’s Negotiated Transition to Democracy and Peace.” Berghof Transitions Series, No. 2. (2008) p.23

Start Year


End Year



South Africa

UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Risk of a conflict relapse

Type of Initiative

Local action, Monitoring, observation, political, and verification missions

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The Commonwealth, EU, Organisation of African Unity, and the UN, along with local people and organisations




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